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Panthers welcome Jenkins County
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    Portal and Jenkins County have both fought through difficult seasons in 2007, and tonight the Panthers host the Eagles to close out the season in a game that has both teams playing for pride.
    Both squads have seen their offenses evolve throughout the season.
    Portal (1-8, 1-4 Region 3-A) began 2007 running the triple option out of a double-slot look, but turnovers and lack of production forced them into the shotgun.
    The change in the offense brought with it a change in quarterbacks. Steven Cox started the season as the signal caller, but after the switch, he moved to running back where the Panthers could take advantage of his feet and his blocking ability. Octavious Rawls took over at QB, and it has been up and down since.
    Portal exploded on offense, picking up its first win of the season in a 52-29 win over Calvary at the PHS homecoming, but ran into a wall last week against the No. 1 team in the state, Emanuel County Institute. The Panthers were able to put together some offense at ECI, and coach Justin Chester feels that his team can end the season on a high note.
    “One thing’s for sure,” Chester said, “we’re producing. Even against ECI, we still had some success offensively. Spreading things out a little bit, throwing in some short passes and some misdirection runs — we’ve had a lot of success with it. The guys can tell it’s working. When they know that things are going good, they have a little confidence in what they are doing.”
    Jenkins County (3-6, 1-4) quarterback Houston Bowers has been excited about the shotgun looks his team started utilizing at the start of the season, and he has been put into situations where he has had to step up and throw the football for JCHS. Eagle coach Chuck Conley has had to put his faith in his QB.
    “Houston is a quality athlete. He’s a good football player and a good quarterback in that he’s got as good an arm as I’ve ever seen. Sometimes his protection hasn’t been what we’d like for it to be, sometimes his receivers hadn’t run the right route and sometimes he’s thrown to the wrong guy, but if we ever get it all together, he’s going to be a threat that some folks will have to deal with.”
    Spirits are up in Millen as the Eagles have shown signs of life not seen at JCHS in some time. Conley feels that his team is heading in the right direction. Jenkins County has had another long season, but Conley is optimistic about the future.
    “I couldn’t have asked for a finer bunch of kids,” Conley said. “I couldn’t ask for the year to have gone any better, with the exception of wins and losses. The kids have been very coachable. It’s the first time in the three years that I’ve been here that the kids have really responded to the coaching. That’s a credit to them. It’s a bunch of kids with good character. We’ve played hard. The ball just hasn’t bounced our way a time or two.”
    Neither team is taking the last game of the season lightly. The rivalry is something both teams have in the backs of their minds.
    “Any time you play somebody who’s only 20 minutes away, there’s a lot on the line,” Chester said. “You’ve got some cousins playing cousins and whatnot, so it’s a game that you defiantly want to win. We have a lot of respect for coach Conley and his group of guys over there. They’ve had some success this year. They’ve won a couple games and  played some people close. We know we’re going to have our hands full.
    Said Conley: “I hope the sleeping giant over there in Portal hasn’t awakened yet.”
    Both teams are looking at the game with high spirits, and both look to carry the momentum of a win into the offseason.
    “I think now if we could just steady the ship and have a good offseason, maybe we can start moving forward,” said Conley. “It would be great to win that last one, finish 4-6 and just go from there.”
    Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. in Portal.

    Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9404.